Curiosity is a central driving force in human experience. It derives from the Latin word cura, which can mean “to care about.” It’s the screw in our backs that pushes us to seek new information. To form new ideas. Surely, the most distinguishing characteristic of curiosity is a willing openness to explore. For young learners, curiosity is the first tool that inspires exploration and further learning. Curiosity in kids is essential to begin any learning process. For instance, in a curriculum-based classroom creating curious-minded children can be challenging. However, once a constant state of curiosity is cultivated within the mind of any student, a perfect learning environment is achieved.
I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.
— Albert Einstein
How Curiosity Affects Learning
A recent study finds that greater states of curiosity in kids link to greater retention of new information. What’s more, the study found that once a certain level of curiosity was reached, students acclimated entirely unrelated information that they were not initially curious about. In other words, remaining curious about new information and actually learning that information go hand in hand. Curiosity cures the cat!
Perhaps the biggest challenge seen in curious children (or adults) is the nature of curiosity itself. Curiosity is a dynamic and kinetic process. Undoubtedly, it requires much movement, observation, and experimentation before it quiets itself. Imagine the way a 3-year-old child examines every aspect of a new block toy. Even the simplest of toys can entertain for hours, so long as there remains a curiosity toward the toy. This inner sense we have to acquire a knowledge of things is a pressing urge within each of us. As George Loewenstein interprets in a 1994 study: curiosity is “a form of cognitively induced deprivation that arises from the perception of a gap in knowledge or understanding.” We can’t help it. When we are curious, we need to know.
Curiosity and the Current School Model
As we have said, humans are born curious — it’s how we learn. In 2007, some researchers logging questions of 14 months to 5-year-old children found they asked an average of 107 questions per hour! That’s a lot of questions. But research by Susan Engel, a leading international authority on curiosity in children, finds that such questioning decreases drastically once children enter school. Clearly, schools have become a place of assessment rather than one of learning.
One of the greatest destroyers of curiosity within the current schooling system is over-expectation. While high expectations are essential motivators, they have their drawbacks too. Two researchers (Malmberg & Martin) found that students feel less confident and have less fun in lessons with high-pressure expectations. And, since curiosity is associated with impulsive behavior, a school system that minimizes such impulsiveness for the sake of ‘structure’ also minimizes curiosity.
Students require time to learn on their own through their own exploration. It may seem counter-intuitive. However, we need teachers to recognize that their job is not to teach students but to guide them to find their own answers. Indeed, when students exist in a heightened state of hunger for more knowledge, their learning capacity is at its best. Yet, when that is lacking, so is the joy of a classroom.
How Can Teachers Promote Curiosity In Kids?
Many students experience overly scripted, overly restricted curriculums. This may show itself in “memorization-repetition” exercises with little room for creativity. We need educators and administrators to be agents of their own teaching. We need them to bring curiosity into the classroom themselves. Here are a few basic tips on how to create curiosity within the classroom:
- Be Curious Yourself — children are more likely to engage when an adult visibly shows their own interest in the subject.
- Ask “What if” Questions — ask your students what else is possible/plausible in your classroom situations. This invites curiosity, imagination, and divergent thinking and broadens the confines of the classroom.
- Encourage Questioning — allow students to guide themselves to their own answers by way of their own questions. Furthermore, encourage and even mandate each student to ask at least one question during each lesson.
- Allow Play — unstructured exploration leads students to learn through their own process of curiosity and activity.
- Encourage Kids to Become Teachers — we learn best when we are the ones teaching. Encourage kids to become a teacher for a day. Or, ask them to explain something simple to you. In this way, bringing out the natural teacher in them.